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One Year Ago in Tucson
2022-03-04, Tucson Music Hall, Tucson, AZ
A year ago yesterday, Dylan kicked off the second leg of his Rough and Rowdy Ways tour. The first show took place in Phoenix Arizona; I shared some quick-reaction reviews and videos the morning after. So, in preparation for him resuming the tour in Japan next month, I decided to do a year-later look back at the Spring 2022 tour’s second show, 100 miles southeast of Phoenix in Tucson.
I remember fans being very excited about this show at the time. Looking through the old Expecting Rain forum posts after the recording first dropped (via our Discord, incidentally – shoutout to taper RovingGambler), one poster calls it “a definite contender for best performance since the [tour] began last Nov.” Another: “Bob's best, most thrilling display of live aceness since 2019 thus far.” And still another reports that “This performance can comfortably stand beside anything 99-02 wishes to throw at it.”
A year on, was all that hyperbole, or does it hold up…?
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Somewhat to my surprise, the hype holds up. This early-2022 performance sounds startlingly different to the shows from the end of the year.
“Startling” since, during the entire year, the usual setlist hadn’t changed one bit. He played almost the exact same songs the final night in Dublin, in the same order, as he did in Tucson seven months prior (the only song change was a cover, “Melancholy Mood” swapped for “That Old Black Magic”).
Same songs, but different sound. This Tucson show is, at times, quite loud. Songs like “False Prophet” and “Gotta Serve Somebody” got quieter arrangements later on in the year. Here they blast out, propelled by Charley Drayton’s sensitive-caveman drumming. So too does opener “Watching the River Flow,” which many nights seems to be the weakest song as Bob warms up his voice, shuffles lyric sheets, and struggles to decide what mic to sing in (you’d think that would be an issue that couldn’t possibly happen more than once… and you’d be wrong).
Those few songs being played so loud makes the quieter songs seem quieter, though I’m not sure they are (every song seemed pretty quiet at the fall London shows I saw). They sound so stripped down, listening to the tape you would never guess there were six people onstage playing during tracks like “Mother of Muses” and “Key West.” The latter sounds almost like it was just a duo of Bob on piano and echoed-effect vocal and Tony Garnier on upright bass. Everyone else is so soft and subtle.
In general, Bob takes center stage in Tucson. Not just vocally, I mean – though he’s rarely sung better in recent years than on this “Black Rider” – but instrumentally. His prominent piano playing leads the band, mostly for good, some inane “When I Paint My Masterpiece” noodling aside. Plus there’s another change from later in the year: A ton of harmonica! He plays it on “Masterpiece,” “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight,” and “To Be Alone With You.” By last fall, the harmonica’s presence had shrunk to a token toot during “Every Grain of Sand.”
One final thing this show has that wouldn’t last long: Local jokes! During the first chunk of Rough and Rowdy dates in Fall 2021, Bob would make some sort of regional reference during the band intro every night. When I saw him in Philadelphia, he shouted out cheesesteaks and Rocky.
Sadly, the local-nods didn’t last long into 2022 – but they made it to this second show. And this one’s a real deep-cut reference. Here it is:
The Wildcats? The Roadrunners? Both are apparently local hockey teams that play at the Tucson Convention Center, next door to the concert venue. Bob probably saw a banner or something on the way in.
It’s not the only joke he makes either; after a honky-tonk ending to “Masterpiece,” Bob quips, “That’s the way Willie Nelson would play it. Or I wish he would [?].”
The Rough & Rowdy Ways tour resumes on April 6th in Osaka. Will Dylan still be playing this same setlist? Probably. Will those songs have regained some of the firepower they had in Tucson? We’ll see.
PS. Almost forgot the most important question for Japan: Will guitarist Bob Britt keep Instagramming arty stage shots every night? Hope so! Here’s the bass that stole the show on “Key West” later that same evening: